Diversifying the method of learning

Adam Habib. (Waldo Swiegers)

Adam Habib. (Waldo Swiegers)

Typically, community colleges offer two year associate’s degrees, the lowest in the hierarchy of academic degrees, which train people such as lab technicians, teachers in early-childhood programmes, computer technicians, draftsmen, radiation therapists, paralegals and machinists.

Bachelor’s degrees are offered at universities and students wanting to undertake post-graduate studies thereafter do so at graduate or professional schools. Professor Adam Habib, the vice chancellor of Wits University believes a similar level of diversification is required in South Africa.

“Should a university be teaching as well as producing research? Absolutely,” he explained.

“But if we want to be truly transformative as a system, we need to diversify our institutes and ensure they have different mandates.”

He said that universities that are either research only or undergraduate only won’t meet the complex needs of society.

“We come from a colonial past, we all want to be the same thing, we all want to be like the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), but if we all become like that, we won’t achieve the kind of complexity we need as a system to address the needs of society.”

Over the next few years, Wits will be moving away from being a majority undergraduate university to a 50% undergraduate, 50% post graduate university, he revealed. “We are going to do that because we have a mandate that was bequeathed upon us by history. We are a public institution and we are attracting a whole series of new staff – distinguished professors wanting to increase the quality of our research.

“We are trying to change the tenure of the institution. Does that mean undergraduate studies are not important? Of course not – we hope other institutions will pick this up because if we do a little bit of everything, we won’t do anything properly.”

Professor Ahmed Bawa, the vice chancellor of the Durban University of Technology (DUT) agrees that all institutions should have a mix between research and teaching: “Some universities are research intensive and others are teaching intensive. What is important is that all institutions have a mix.

“Any institution that is defined as a university must have a significant research agenda, DUT is definitely a teaching intensive institution with a growing research profile. UCT with about 17% of its students in master’s and doctoral students is a highly rated research university, but it is also a very substantial undergraduate teaching university.

This article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers. Content has been sourced independently by the Mail & Guardian Supplements editorial team.